Are you a Sikh parent with daughter? Chances are you have gone through the "Princess" phase with her, especially if you live outside of India in countries like USA, Canada, England, etc. My son is 9 years old and after having a second child four years ago (a girl!), I realized more and more how different the boy & girl "species" are from each other. Boys love trucks/cars and physical/rough play, whereas girls love dolls, role playing & dress up. Obviously one can’t generalize too much, but if you have both a boy and a girl, I’m sure you’ll know what I mean.
So lately I have been watching my daughter and the things that she is interested in, and it has made me think about Sikh women and identity as a Sikh. Lately she has been really into dressing up as a princess, wearing plastic crowns and spinning around (like they do in the movies) trying to get her dress to spin and twirl (dresses that don’t "twirl" don’t work for her!). She wants to paint her nails and lips and she sometimes hangs things on her ears as "earrings" along with wearing plastic high heals as part of "princess outfits". She loves dolls of all kinds and can just play on her own making them beds and all kinds of fun creative stuff for them. The thing that I have noticed is that with the limited media out there for girls she has started to mirror characters from movies.
Girls love seeing movies and videos with other girls, especially animated movies by Disney and other film studios. Movies like: Aladdin (Jasmine), Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast (Belle), The Little Mermaid, (Arial), Tinkerbell, Barbie, Shrek (Fiona), etc. There are many other kinds of movies out there, but these are some that are very mainstream and hard for girls not to notice even if you don’t have the movies.
I don’t have an issue with my daughter dressing up, but as I start to see her copy these characters I see things that I don’t like particularly as a Sikh. In our house we have a rule that when she goes out of the house she needs to have her hair covered and up in a joora (tied up hair in a bun) and covered. We don’t wear makeup or ear-rings, and dress gracefully. However in the animations all the characters have their hair down, often times low cut dresses and some type of romantic encounter. As a result my daughter doesn’t want to wear her hair up…and is adamant about not wearing a turban or head covering because it doesn’t match her image of a "princess" or what she thinks is pretty. She even wants to copy the kissing from the movies. I try my best to explain these things to her and what our values are as compared to what she is seeing.
So as I am going through all this I think how much different this is than it was raising my son who wore a turban from an early age and didn’t have this type of influence. It really made me think about how my daughter is going to relate to being a Sikh and how important it is at this time to ingrain Sikh values and an understanding of our lifestyle.
We often talk about "Kaurs" being princesses, but what does that really mean practically for Sikh women? I tell my daughter (charanjeet kaur) that her names means… "Princess who is victorious in bringing people to the feet of God". But what does this mean to her at this age? She can only relate to the type of princesses that she knows, sees, and has been taught. As kids they are very visual and want to experience things for themselves through copying and role playing.
This has made me think about how we as Sikhs have some serious work to do in relation to our Kaurs. In general most of the time when Sikhs are explained in terms of identity, we put forward the image of the Sikh Man and a Turban. Sikh women are kind of a shadow in the background not really part of the picture.
This brings up questions of Sikh identity as women. In recent times most Sikh women haven’t worn turbans and don’t really have a visually distinct identity as a Sikh. As a result I think Sikh women have blended more into western society falling under the radar and maybe even more easily giving up their Sikh practices because they don’t have to deal with the outward challenges of looking different like a man does, wearing a turban and beard. You might notice a Kara on their wrist and MAYBE a chuni covering their head, but overall there isn’t anything distinct for most Sikh women to stand out in society to identify themselves as Sikhs.
So as I think of my daughter and the things she is learning It makes me more conscious of how I really have a lot of work to do to establish a connection for her as a Sikh; to balance and counter the other influences that she has. She goes to school with mostly non-Sikh kids who wear their hair down and also copy movie characters. She wants to fit in and be like them, though as Sikhs a big part of who we are is to stand out and be uniquely identifiable.
So again I think, what is the identity of a Sikh woman? What makes her stand out and say "I am a Kaur and daughter of Guru Gobind Singh!" Would Guru Gobind Singh know she was a Sikh if he saw her? When I leave the house this what I ask myself to make sure I represent the Guru and am dressed appropriately.
I think over time we have gotten used to two sets of rules of being a Sikh in relation to men and women and slowly this is eating away the female Sikh identity. As a man, having a beard and turban is something that makes me consciously choose and live a certain way since I stand out. When a Sikh man cuts his hair or stops wearing a turban everyone notices! With most Sikh women compromises are less noticed and they don’t have the pressure of looking different, so it is often accepted when looking like an every day western woman.
For me I’m just thinking about what I can do to help my daughter and other young Sikh girls. Most of the stories that kids hear in Sikh history are stories of men, with very few of women. Seeing my daughter and what she is becoming interested in is making it apparent how important it is to create more Sikh media geared towards girls. Yes, there has been one animated Sikh movie so far (Sundri), which is great, however we need much more and more often. We already produce fun and educational regular audio stories for kids on SikhNet, however visual media is really key and the next step. We have been planning and thinking about how to produce regular semi-animated video Sikh story episodes cost effectively…but cost is always the limitation (especially when you are wanting to make it available freely). I estimate that it would cost about $2,000 per video story episode and if we were to produce two each month (24 per year) that would be about $48,000 per year. And that is not even for full animation…but simple motion based illustrations/moving characters. We’ll probably need to find people to sponsor episodes to make this work.
I think creating Sikh media for kids is very important and something I personally want to work on, however I think what is most important is what happens at home between the children and the parents. It is making me realize how I have to really spend more quality time with my daughter to immerse her in the Sikh history and lifestyle in a way that she can experience for herself. Sikh media is just one of the tools to help.
Every morning myself and my wife get up early in the morning and do our Sadhana (daily spiritual practice of banis, meditation, kundalini yoga, prayers, etc) and our kids see us do this and then want to model and copy that. Teaching by example is probably the best tool. From an early age with my son he has had a daily sadhana routine that he would pick out and do. In the same way we have started that for my daughter. We tell her…she is 4 years old and so can practice meditating for 4 minutes each day (one minute for each year). We try to involved our kids so that they are a part of what we do as Sikhs so they can have an experience and not just be watching on the sidelines.
If I don’t spend time and energy sharing this lifestyle with my children in a real way, then the mainstream media will just influence them be like the mainstream. They will have no real base of experience to root them to continuing to live the Sikh lifestyle when they are older. This is a big reason why my son is in boarding school at Miri Piri Academy in Amritsar, India. He is taking the next step in his journey to really "root" the values as a Sikh, so when he is older he has an experience and understanding that can help guide him when in duality (just as I did when I was his age!).
So, back to my daughter. For me and my family, we feel that a part of being a Kaur is standing out as a Sikh. One of the ways that we do so is by wearing a turban (both men and women). It’s a tool for change. For me… by wearing this crown it is like making a commitment to the Guru and offering yourself to be of service wherever you go. It’s a signboard that says… I am a spiritual man/women of God. My challenge is to instill these values in my kids so they value it and choose to live the lifestyle of a GurSikh.
I think each and every one of us has to go through some form of this for ourselves and our children, and decide how we want to live our life as a person….and as a Sikh.
It was very inspiring reading about another young Sikh girl (Harminder Kaur) sharing her experience of "Becoming a Princess". Definitely read the article! It seems that she went through the same type of things that my daughter is going through now. I don’t think these experience are unique, since I see this happening everywhere. A turban for a women is just another way to crown one self and stand out in a unique way. It is not reserved for men or Amritdhari’s and so those that want to take this leap will benefit from this tool.
So, I don’t have the answer or the "right way", but I share these thoughts for us all to think about since I have often felt it was odd how women take a backstage role all the time in the Sikh world these days.
Picture of me and my daughter from last winter
Shanti Kaur Khalsa speaks about how the women the in Khalsa Panth stopped wearing bana, but then over time the bana for women has caught on.
This is an interview from 2005 with Hari Bhajan Kaur who is another one of our local Sikh Youth. In the interview she shares her experiences wearing a turban and challenges growing up as a Sikh.
Dr. Harjot Kaur (Calgary) narrates her own experiences which led her to start wearing Bana (traditional Sikh clothes). Instead of being an impediment it actually helped her professionally.
Shanti Kaur shares her ideas about the Universality of Sikhism and the specific discipline of the Rehit given by Guru Gobind Singh. Are Sikhs who keep the Rehit better than ones that don’t? Are they better Sikhs? If Guru Nanak was against forms and rituals does that contradict that Guru Gobind Singh created a form for the Khalsa?
Do you want to try tying a women style turban? There are many ways to tie a turban, however here are a few methods worn by some Sikh women that I know. Beautiful & Princess like!